Thursday, August 30, 2007

Above and Beyond

The high school I attended had 7 formal dances a year. Since there were so many dances they weren't as elaborate as many schools that only have "Prom." Girls would borrow each other's dresses so they wouldn't have to buy 7 new dresses each year, and big bonus points were earned for creativity and fun on the part of the boy.

It was bad form to just call a girl up and ask her to the dance. Elaborate plans were made just for the asking phase of the dance. My sister once had a boy leave a gigantic envelope on the doorstep - it was probably 3 feet by 4 feet. It was addressed to her and had a large replica of a stamp affixed. Inside was a huge piece of paper, corners rounded, lined, and big holes punched so it looked like notebook paper. On it was handwritten the invitation to the dance. So cute!

A very creative young man led me on a Mission Impossible treasure hunt ending in a phone booth with the self-destructing tape and the recorded invitation to the dance. I put my reply on a small piece of paper ("yes"), rolled it into a film canister, baked a cake, cut out the center and put the film cannister into it, assembled and frosted the cake, and left it on his doorstep in a cake box.

Girl's Day Dance was a girl's choice dance and it was traditional that the day before the dance, the boy would take the girl who asked him to the dance out to lunch. Not just grabbing a hamburger at McDonalds, but something creative. Maybe this was a picnic spread in the school cafeteria , the hallway, or out on the lawn.

My sophomore year I asked an older guy who I didn't know to the dance. He was a friend of a friend and I thought he was cute. I didn't know much about him, but my friend said he was really nice and urged me to ask him. The day before the dance he kidnapped me for lunch and drove me up to the mountains in his Jeep. I had no idea where we were going. (You can keep reading. This isn't going to be a creepy story.) We parked, hiked, and arrived at a lovely site, high, high up, overlooking the valley, with a little stream going by, and a picnic laid out for us by his friends who'd come up earlier to lay out the tablecloth, the wine glasses and milk, and the bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was impressed!

The thought, planning, and effort that go into an endeavor pay off in the end. So it is with this ice cream. It was such a long process to make that I've put off blogging about it. I'm so lazy I didn't want to have to type in all the steps. But every time we ate it I would think, "This is sooooo gooood! I've got to let people know about this!" So here it is. Try not to be angry that I'm out of season here. You'll have a hard time finding fresh cherries. You can use canned, or just print it out and put it in your file to make next summer. You'll thank me then!

Almond, Cherry, Chocolate Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
by David Lebovitz

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
2 cups (270 g) whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped*
5 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 cup (200 g) well-drained Sour Cherris in Syrup or Candied Cherries, coarsely chopped**
Fudge Ripple

Warm the milk, sugar, salt and 1 cup (250 ml) of the cream in a medium saucepan. Finely chop 1 cup (135 g) of the almonds and add them to the warm milk. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Strain the almond-infused milk into a separate medium saucepan. Press with a spatula against the strainer to extract as much flavor from the almonds as possible. You can also pick up handfuls of the almonds and squeeze out all the liquid possible. Discard the almonds.

Rewarm the almond-infused milk Pour the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan. (A rubber glove under the egg yolk bowl will keep it from skittering across the counter as you whisk.)

Stir the mixture constanly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, sraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir in the almond extract and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's insturctions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the remaining 1 cup chopped almonds. When your remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the chopped cherries.

*To toast almonds spread nuts in an even layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Place the sheet in a preheated 350 deg. F oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice while baking. Snap an almond in half: if they're done it should be lightly golden brown throughout. Let amonds cool completely befor using.

**Candied Cherries (makes 2 cups)

1 lb (450 g) cherries, fresh or frozen
1-1/2 cups (375 ml) water
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 drop almond extract

Remove the stems and pit the cherries. Heat the cherries, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a large nonreactive saucepan or skillet until the liquid starts to boil.

Turn down the heat to a low boil and cook the cherries for 25 minutes, stirring frequently during the last 10 minutes of cooking to make sure they are cooking evenly and not sticking.

Once the syrup is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup, remove the pan from the heat, add the almond extract, and let the cherries cool in their syrup. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To use, drain the cherries in a strainer for about 1 hour. Save the syrup to pour over pancakes - heavenly!


The lovely and gracious Jaden of Steamy Kitchen awarded me the Thinking Blogger award. Thank you, Jaden!

I'd like to pass this award on to several other bloggers who inspire me, inform me, and make me think:

Kitchen Wench
My Kitchen In Half Cups
Food and Photo
Mulligan Stew Me
Technicolor Kitchen

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

E is for Extra Effort

In fourth grade I participated in my first science fair. I had no clue what I was doing. The instructions were to do a science experiment and then to demonstrate and explain the results to the teacher. I cast about in my mind for the Nobel prize winning science experiment and came up from the science textbook.

I clipped a piece of paper over a geranium leaf to show that phototsynthesis couldn't take place when the leaf didn't receive sunlight. My plant cooperated beautifully, producing a limp, yellowed leaf for me to show off. I proudly carried my potted plant into the science fair and realized I'd come up seriously short on the effort meter. Other students (or their parents) had booths they'd constructed filled with colorful charts and graphs diagraming their experiments, the variables, and the outcomes. The most attention getting display was a papier mache volcano with a working pump that pumped out red, oozing "lava." Man, I was sunk.

The teachers / judges went around to each station and asked the student to describe their experiment. When they asked me I said something brilliant along the lines of, "You should know. It's in the book!" Hmmm. For some strange reason I didn't win any prizes at that science fair.

I have since learned that extra effort counts. Any fifteen year old can mow a lawn. It's the one who edges, rakes, sweeps up the debris, and puts away the tools who'll get a tip and get invited back again. The restaurant waiter who is attentive, refilling glasses, quickly bringing your order, remembering who ordered the lamb and who got the cashew chicken, and keeping a quiet eye on your table so that he's there if you need anything is the waiter who goes home with fat tips at night. The sullen server who slops food on the table and must be chased down at the end of the meal for the check is not.

Likewise, in baking, attention to detail and a little extra effort make all the difference. Finest ingredients, scrupulously following the recipe, and care taken in the finishing and presentation make the difference between a nice treat and drop-dead gorgeous, taste sensation.

When I first got my own copy of The Perfect Scoop one of the recipes that called to me was the Tin Roof Ice Cream. That's one of my favorite ice cream flavors. I was put off, though, by the steps involved. While many of the Perfect Scoop recipes are as easy as dropping ingredients into a blender, chilling, then freezing, this one had many componenets that had to be made prior to actual ice cream making. Such was my compusion to make ice cream that I plunged ahead, regardless of the time, cost, or difficulty. It ended up not being difficult, just a bit time-consuming, and totally worth it. Smooth creamy ice cream laced with ribbons of dark chocolate syrup and studded with dark chocolate-coated nuts. Wow! My family was all impressed and delighted with the tasty results.

We took these pictures on a very hot day so the ice cream was melting into a delicious puddle as we shot. We ate it anyway. Oh, how we suffer for the blog!

Tin Roof Sundae
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
by David Lebovitz

3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
Pinch salt
1-1/2 cups (375) ml heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup Chocolate-Covered Peanuts (recipe below)
Chilled Fudge Ripple (recipe below)

Warm the milk, sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the cream in a medium saucepan. With a sharp paring knife, scrape the small seeds from the vanilla bean and add them, along with the pod, to the hot milk mixture. Cover, remove from the heat, and lt steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Rewarm the vanilla-infusted mixture. Pour the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Set this bowl on top of a rubber glove to keep it from scooching along the counter. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constanly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream to cool. Remove the vanilla bean, wipe it clean of any egg bits, and add it back to the custard. Stir in the vanilla and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Before freezing, remove the vanilla bean (it can be rinsed and reused). Freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the ice cream is freezing, chop the chocolat-covered peanutes into bite-sized pieces.

Fold the peanut pieces into the frozen ice cream as you remove it from the machine, and layer it with Fudge Ripple. Start with a puddle of Fudge Ripple in the bottom of the storage container and then alternate layers of ice cream with layers of sauce.

Chocolate-Covered Peanuts

4 oz (115 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup (150 g) roasted, unsalted peanuts

Put the pices of chocolate in an absolutely dry heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water to melt th chocolate, stirring until smooth. In the meantime, stretch a piece of plastic wrap over a dinner plate.

Once the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat and stir in the peanuts, coasting them with the chocolate. Spread the mixture on the plastic-lined plate and chill in the refrigerator.

Fudge Ripple (makes 1 cup)

1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) light corn syrup
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
6 Tbsp (50 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk together the sugar, corn syrup, water, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble at the edges.

Continue to whisk until it just comes to a low boil. Cook for 1 minute, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool. Chill in the refrigerator before using.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer's Last Fling

Summer is so fleeting. I looked at the calendar and couldn't believe that it's already the last week of August. What happened? I haven't been to the beach, read a trashy novel, or gone on a roller coaster. No hiking (thank goodness), sailing, or biking. What have I been doing? Well, to be honest, I've been making ice cream.

You thought that because I wasn't posting it, I'd stopped. I'd gotten over my obsession with The Perfect Scoop. Not so. I was just keeping it under wraps, afraid that if I posted everything I'd made, the blog police would make me change my name from Cooke Baker Lynn to Ice Cream Freezer Lynn. And that's just not good. It makes me sound too bulky, for one thing.

But my summer fling with The Perfect Scoop has completely taken over my time. And my freezer. Every available container close to a 1 quart size has been pressed into service. I've got squares, rounds, smalls, talls, and leftovers. (I highly recommend saving the 32 oz plain yogurt containers. They're perfectly sized for a quart of ice cream.) And none of them are labeled. So when someone wants some of the lemon-ginger ice cream they have to hunt.

Dessert time around here sounds something like this:

"Isn't it the yellow tupperware with the green lid?" "It was, but we ate most of that so I moved the little bit leftover into a small treat-cup size. The yellow one now has the banana ice cream in it." "Well, what's in the blue yogurt one?" "What color is it?" "Um, creamy?" "Oh, that's the lavendar-honey." "What's in the red yogurt?" "That would be the peach. That sounds good. Get that one out."

You see, I'm seriously back-blogged, so I'm just going to do one more week of ice cream, then we'll be ready for fall. Almost. I still don't have a single ripe tomato on my four tomato plants.

When I let my husband pick which ice cream du jour I should make he picked the Malted Milk Ice Cream. He's always had a soft spot for Whopper's and I'd already made Whopper Ice cream for him, which he liked. This one, though, he loved. He thought it was the best ice cream he'd ever had. It is seriously good. Creamy, saturated with smooth, malt flavor, and speckled with malt ball crunch.

Malted Milk Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
by David Lebovitz

1 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup malt powder
6 large egg yolks
2 cups malted milk balls, coarsely chopped

Warm the half-and-half, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. In a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, vanilla, and malt powder and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and whisk it into the malted milk mixture. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer' instructions. As you remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the chopped malted milk balls.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

PG-13 Rant

Warning: this post contains high levels of estrogen and may offend readers. Reader discretion is advised. Children under 13 must seek their parents' permission before reading. Male readers may want to skip straight to the recipe. In an effort to keep this site's PG-13 rating, the term "dancing" has been substituted for another popular activity for married couples.

I went to the doctor's office recently. I saw the same woman that I see every year for my annual grope and poke. We make polite chit-chat about my family while she makes sure I'm clean and cancer-free. She looks puzzled whenever I try humor to ease over the awkwardness of the situation. I think she has no sense of humor. Anyway, I had seen her just 4 months previously and was back to ask about a different, but related topic.

Having had a nurse dispense with the weight, temperature, and blood pressure (all fine, thank you for asking), she starts to ask me about my lifestyle. "Do you smoke?" No. "Do you take any prescription medications?" No. "Do you do any recreational drugs?" she asks, with her voice lilting up a bit, as if to suggest that I could trust her if I chose this moment to break down and confess my crack cocaine addiction. NO.

"Do you have a dancing partner?" Yes, I say, my voice rising a bit, as if to suggest that the chart surely contains the information that I've been married over 20 years and have 4 children. I am an active dancer.

"And is your dancicng partner....male?" Eybrows crinkling together, forehead furrowed, I reply in a testy voice, "That would be my husband."

I fumed through the rest of the visit, seething inside over the indignity of people who refuse to remember you, even though you see them repeatedly, and the embarrassment of such politically correct questions designed not to offend anyone. Except they do offend me.

I crossed the street from the doctor's office to the grocery store. Time was tight and I needed to get dinner fixin's. I headed straight for the meat counter, looking for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I didn't have the time to do all the tedious prep work so I was prepared to pay a premium price for someone else doing that work. Aha, one last package. I grabbed it and then dropped it right back. Why did it go "squiiiish?" What does it mean "injected with up to 15% solution?" Solution of what? Botox, to make an aged chicken look plump and fresh? Or water so I can pay boneless, skinless chicken prices for water? Argggh!

I headed over to the produce section. A helpful young man was stocking the packaged, dried fruit section so I asked him where the California dried apricots were. "Oh, we don't carry those." I spotted them on the shelf and grabbed a pack. Then I asked a different produce guy where the unsalted pistachios were. "Oh, we don't carry those." (I'm sensing a trend here.) Seeing the growing thundercloud on my face he hastily amended with, "but if we do, they'd be in the baking aisle."

So I head over to the baking aisle. I see, of course, zero unsalted pistachios but I do note that they're clearing out the Nestle's peanut butter and milk chocolate chips. What a shame. Of course a bag had to go in my cart. Which, of course, was one of the mutant carts that pulls wildly in one direction. I was not in the mood to wrestle with it further. I bought my chips and apricots and left.

Storming into the kitchen I snarled at my husband, "I don't care how hot it is; I need to bake cookies." My husband is a wise man with a strong sense of self-preservation. "Cookies sound great, honey," said he.

I knew I needed chocolate cookies. The delicious ones I'd seen on Technicolor Kitchen were out of the question as someone else was on the computer. Grrrr. So I used my old, standard chocolate chip cookie recipe, dumped in 1/2 cup of cocoa and the newly purchased chips. While I mixed and baked I mentally wrote a letter to the doctor's office.

Dear ______-

Please attach the following information to my chart:

I am a happily married, heterosexual who does not smoke or do drugs. Should I ever decide to cheat on my husband, take up smoking, mainline heroin, or take dance lessons with a goat, I'll let you know. In the meantime, DON'T ASK! That way I can pretend that you actually know who I am.


Do you think I should send it?

Chocolate Fix Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Chips
1 cup chopped pecans

1- Preheat oven to 375 deg. F.

2 - Sift into a small bowl the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa.

3- In a large mixing bowl combine the butter and sugars. Beat till creamy and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and eggs. Beat well. Gradually add flour mixture; mix well. Stir in the chips and nuts.

4- Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

5- Bake for 8-9 minutes, just till the top is set. Don't overbake or you'll have pucks.

6- Let cookies rest on the sheet for about 2 minutes (they'll continue baking), then remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chocolate Goodwill Ambassadors

When I first moved to Seattle I felt like such a foreigner. I couldn't navigate around the city. Where I grew up there were easily seen landmarks for North, East, and West, and I could figure out the other one. And all the streets were laid out in a neat grid traveling on north-south or east-west lines. So simple that it fooled me into thinking I was pretty good at navigating. Hah.

In Seattle the landmarks are rolling hills, water, and volcanic mountains, north and south, and mountain ranges to the east and west. But which is which? When someone gives directions that say, "head toward the water," do they mean Lake Washington, Lake Union, or Puget Sound?

I felt like a foreigner in conversation. I didn't know any of the sports teams or local bands people were talking about.

I also felt like a foreigner when it came to food. There were so many things that I'd never had before. A friend took me out for Vietnamese food and I hadn't known it was possible for my mouth to feel so hot without actual flames coming out of it. I was never brave enough to try lutefisk. And coming from a desert climate I wasn't prepared for my first sight of a geoduck. Euwww!

But some things I adapted to easily. Like desserts. When I first tried a Nanaimo Bar I was in heaven. It's a regional speciality, named for the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, Canada. I wish I could do a drawing like Fiona of Wok and Spoon did with the Tim Tams and send these beauties as goodwill ambassadors around the world, but they don't travel well, so I'll just share the recipe and you can make your own.

Nanaimo Bars

(serves 25 and takes about 2-3/4 hours)

6 Tbsp melted butter, cooled
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
1-3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tbsp butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate

Beat together the butter and sugar till smooth. Add the egg and beat. Stir in the crumbs, coconut, pecans, and cocoa and beat till well mixed.

Evenly press dough into a buttered floured 8-inch square pan. Bake in a 350 deg. F. oven until slightly darker, about 20 minutes. Cool.

While the crust cools, in a mixing bowl beat together the 1/2 cup butter, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla till smooth. Spread over the cooled cookie base.

In a 1-2 qt. pan over low heat stir together the 2 tbsp butter and unsweetened chocolate till melted. Spread this over the filling.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, until the filling is firm enough to cut neatly. Cut into 25 squares. Serve, or chill up to 3 days.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I Won, I Won!

When the delightful Fiona of Wok and Spoon announced that she would be picking up 3 packages of Tim Tams on a recent trip to Melbourne and then mailing them to lucky readers of her blog, it was a no-brainer to put my name in the drawing. Free chocolate? Oh, yes!

Tim Tams, you ask? Well, so did I. I'd never heard of them and apparently they are available only in Australia. Perhaps New Zealand. I don't know, having never been to either place. Thus I've been deprived of ever tasting Tim Tams, Fiona's favorite treat.

Great was my surprise and excitement when my name was actually drawn. Woo hoo! I'd get to try a Tim Tam! I hovered by my mail box eagerly awaiting a small package with a sweet souvenir from the Southern Hemisphere. What I got was much more than expected. It was a Value Share Pack! Not even greedy me would polish that whole thing off by myself. There was plenty to go around.

As my daughter set up the photo shoot on the counter, some of my son's toys wanted in on the action. Good thing there were enough that even the cars could share.

The Tim Tams are wonderful. My husband said they remind him of chocolate-covered graham crackers, but the cracker part is more like a wafer. Crisp, delicate, melding wonderfully with the chocolate creme filling and smooth milk chocolate coating when you bite. Mmm, I think I need to go get another one.

When this package runs out I'll either have to figure out how to make them myself or go to Australia to stock up. Thank you so much, Fiona, for this fun treat!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Think Hink Stink

Summer is the time for family vacations and family vacations are all about making memories. Unfortunately, not all of them are wonderful, cherished memories. In my family a vacation did not involve hotels with swimming pools or amusement park rides. They did not involve dining out at fancy restaurants or even seeing the world's biggest ball of twine. Almost all of our vacations involved packing up the car with foul-smelling camping gear, driving on dusty, bumpy roads to some remote, baking hot site, and setting up our tent. Those were the deluxe-edition vacations.

The no-frills vacation did not entail putting up a tent by the car. No, for one of these thrill-packed adventures I got to strap on a pack as big as myself and trudge for endless hours to get to some remote, mosquito-infested site to pitch our tent.

Are you getting the sense that I'm not a big nature gal? And quite a whiner?

My parents revel in the great out-of-doors and tried patiently and persistently to woo me with the spectacular vistas and fresh, pine scented air. All I got out of it was blistered heels, sore shoulders, and a propensity for bad puns. As we hiked along the endless trails we played word games to pass the time. I Spy got old quickly. I spy something brown - dirt; something blue- sky; something green - scrubby trees. Then you'd worked through every available landscape feature.

My favorite was a game called Hink Stinks. Trudging along you could have your brain engaged in thinking up a story and when you had it perfected you announced to the others that you had a Hink Stink. You told your story and it had to end with, "and the next day the newspaper headlines read...." And the others had to guess the headline that you'd dreamed up for you story, and, this is the challenging bit, all the words had to rhyme. There were bonus points for the more words you incorporated into your headline. 2 words was easy peasy, 9 words was really hard to make up and even harder to guess.

For example, you could tell a story about an amazing scientific study proving that howler monkeys living in close proximity to peach trees adversely affected the fruit's color. The headline would read (in 3 words) "Screeches Bleaches Peaches."

I was horrible at playing Hink Stinks and my family hated my stories because I was so focused on nobody guessing my headline that my stories were convoluted and stuffed with more red herrings than a fish market. When I finally revealed my headline, everyone would get angry. "What about the puffin? What did the carpet bag have to do with it? Why did you put in a albino, long-maned female horse? (fair, hair, mare)"

So now that I'm an adult in charge of my own life I no longer go camping or back-packing. Life is too short to torture yourself with things you hate. But the word games are irretrievably stuck in my head. When I made this lovely clafouti, I couldn't help myself. It just happened. From the warped recesses of my brain came:

Tooti Fruity Clafouti Beauty

Only four words, but extra bonus points because it tastes fabulous and it's low-fat, too!

adapted from Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too by Susan Purdy

Use a generous pie dish or a 10-inch tart pan.

6 Tbsp, plus 1 tsp granulated sugar, divided
1 cup thinly sliced peeled fresh or frozen unsweetened peaches
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and patted dry, or frozen, unsweetened blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries or frozen unsweetened whole raspberries
3 Tbsp dark rum or fruit-flavored liqueur (optional) - I used Chambord
1 cup 1% milk
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Confectioners' sugar

1- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 deg. F. Coat the pie plate with cooking spray, then sprinkle it with 1 tsp sugar.

2- Peel peaches. I used a vegetable peeler, but you can blanch the peaches for about 2 minutes in boiling water then place them in cold water. Then the skins will slip off easily.

3- In a large bowl, combine the fruit, 3 Tbsp sugar, and the rum or liqueur, if using. Toss to blend. Set aside while you prepare the batter.

4- In a food processor or blender, combine the milk, eggs and egg white, vanilla, the remaining 3 Tbsp sugar, the flour, salt, and nutmeg. Process until smooth.

5- Spread the fruit mixture in the prepared plate, and pour the batter over the top. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the top is puffed up and golden brown. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then sift on some confectioners' sugar and serve warm. Or set aside at room temperature and reheat before serving.

This recipe serves 8 and has 150 calories, 4 g. protein, and 2 g fat per serving. Unless you put whipped cream on top or vanilla ice cream with it. Like I did.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Happily Ever After

I love asking couples the question, "How did you meet?" The answers are always different and wonderful. Whether it was a blind date, dropped sunglasses, eyes locking across a crowded room, or a silly college stunt, it's so charming to hear the story and see the happy look as they remember that first meeting.

Of course, the question is always fun to ask your parents. What chance encounter is responsible for you being here? I've been told several different versions of how my parents met, but recently my mother told me the definitive vesion. She had read a magazine article that said the best husband to have was a nerd. One who worked in a technical area was much better than someone like a doctor who saw women all day long and was likely to fall in love with a patient or nurse. A nerd, however, wouldn't see a woman until he came home at night, thus ensuring marital stability.

My mother's sister went away to college, met her own dream man, called my mother and said, ""I've found your nerd! He's my boyfriend's best friend and next door neighbor." But he was too shy to call her. For three years the sister and boyfriend begged, pleaded, prodded, and cajoled the young man to call. At last he sent a birthday card to this young woman. And 7 months later they were married; in a double wedding - the two sisters and the two best friends.

So, I owe my existence to an unkown magazine author and my aunt. Oh, that sounds wrong. I meant, because they got my parents together.

Last year we celebrated my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. It was a lovely time for the family to get together, talk, look over old photos, remember trips, special occasions, and funny jokes. Naturally, there was food. What's a family gathering without food? My sister and I wanted to make food that would be easy to fix, easy to eat, and delicious. Seafood is a treat for my parents, so one of the recipes that we decided on was this beautiful grilled shrimp. Simple ingredients, short marinating time, and so easy to barbecue. When we circulated a tray of these through the clusters of people chatting they would stop, pop a shrimp in their mouth, and then groan while rolling their eyes heavenward. Yes, it's that good.

For my birthday this year I chose the anniversary shrimp for my dinner. It's a winning dish with a proven track record. And not a little romance tied to it, too.

If you'd like to briefly share your "how you met" story in comments, I'd love to hear it!

(Note: the most time-consuming aspect of this recipe is the shrimp preparation. You can do that earlier in the day and just keep the shrimp in a bag in the refrigerator. And if you choose to marinate it longer than 30 minutes, well, is more flavor a bad thing?)

Happily Ever After Shrimp
adapted from The Best of Cooking Light

2 lbs large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and butterflied
1/2 cup thawed orange juice concentrate, undiluted
1 tsp grated lime rind
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

1- Combine first 9 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes.

2- Prepare grill while shrimp is marinating. Soak a grilling plank in water.

3- Remove shrimp from bag, reserving marinade. Place shrimp on grilling plank in a single layer; they can be close together.

4- Place plank on the grill over medium-high heat. Cook about 4 minutes, till they start to pink up then turn the shrimp, and cook till just thoroughly pinked. Don't overcook or you have rubber shrimp! You can use the marinade to baste when you turn them, but they cook quickly, so you might not have time for that.

This is my submission for the Heart of the Matter roundup of heart-healthy recipes hosted by Joanna of Joanna's Food.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fit For A Princess

22 years ago I had a little girl. She was 9 lbs, 14 oz. with a shock of black hair and sweet, pink cheeks. We named her Sarah, because in Hebrew, Sarah means Princess. This past week we celebrated that occasion. It wasn't anything big, just a nice dinner with her fiancee over. Some champagne. And a cake. Of course a cake.

I was slicing the cake when my husband said, "This is the last birthday of Sarah Craig." What?? Was he having an evil premonition? It took a moment for my champagne-adled brain to register that next year at this time she won't be a Craig, she will be married. She'll be in her own place with her own wonderful husband. I'll still bake her a cake, if she wants, but it won't be the same.

I'll no longer be able to rouse her out of bed to come out on the deck and take pictures of food because the morning light is just perfect. She is the reason my blog looks so good. She is a professional photographer who does my food pics out of love.

She won't be here to do a yoga video with me. Or tell me that my outfit is dowdy and needs to be changed. Or say, come snuggle in bed and let's watch an episode of The Office together.

She won't be moving far. Not out of state or out of the country. But it won't be the same.

She won't be here to tell me, "Mom, you look so hot!" and make me laugh. I know we'll be on the phone together a lot, but that's not the same as watching the entire 6 tapes of Pride and Prejudice while we have the flu together.

I'm so happy for her to be marrying a terrific young man who loves her whole-heartedly. They will have a wonderful life together. But I will miss her. Even though I'll see her often, it won't be the same.

When I asked her what birthday cake she wanted, she said, "Something fruity. And pretty - so you can blog it."

So I picked a recipe that combined ladyfingers with a sweet, tangy raspberry mousse and topped it with a crown of raspberries. It was delicious and we all gobbled up our pieces. Here is the recipe . I need to go get a tissue.

Sarah's Raspberry Princess Mousse Cake
adapted from Taste of Home

1 6-oz package raspberry gelatin
1-3/4 cups boiling water
2 packages (12 oz. each) frozen sweetened raspberries, thawed
2 cups heavy whippping cream, plus extra for garnishing
23 ladyfingers
Fresh raspberries for garnish

1- In a large bowl, dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Stir in raspberries. Refrigerate until partially thickened. (I had to go do an errand at this point and when I returned, my gelatin had set. I just let it warm up a bit and broke it up with a fork.)

2- Whip cream till it holds semi-firm peaks. Fold whipped cream into gelatin mixture.

3- Arrange the ladyfingers with rounded sides out around the sides of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Carefully spoon raspberry mixture into the pan.

4- Cover and refrigerate until firm. Garnish with whipped cream and raspberries.

Makes about 12 servings.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bring It To A Close

For one year in high school I was devoted to the show, Saturday Night Live. I loved Gilda, Lorraine, Dan, and John and it was worth staying up late to see how they could warp any situation into a side-splitting comedy fest. As a bonus, I could then be one of the cool kids on Monday, knowing all the lines, the gags, and the in-jokes.

One running gag that the show had was the Land Shark. It was a guy in a shark costume who would knock on the door, and when the unwary occupant opened the door, they would be devoured. The trick was getting them to open the door. He'd try "Candygram." "We're on a diet," they'd reply. "Plumber." "I don't need a plumber." And so on, until he they finally opened the door. My favorite use of the land shark was in a skit that was running on and on, with no end in sight. The land shark knocks on the door. The people in the apartment turn him down for a candygram and flowers, but gleefully open the door when he offers an "end to this silly skit."

I often feel that way when I make Asian dishes. I love the food, but I don't know what to serve for dessert. And a meal without dessert just isn't even worth contemplating! So I was so pleased to try out this recipe from The Perfect Scoop. I knew as soon as I tasted it that it would be the perfect way to bring a close to a wonderful, spicy Asian meal. The lemon and ginger flavors float delicately on a creamy cloud, soothing the palate and pleasing the tongue and tummy. I especially enjoyed it drizzled with honey. Perfection!

Lemon Ginger Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop

2 lemons, preferably unsprayed
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
3 oz. (85 g) unpeeled fresh ginger
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks

Zest the two lemons into a food processor. Save the lemons for another use. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is finely incorporated into the sugar.

Cut the ginger into thin slices and place them in a medium, nonreactive saucepan. Add enough water to cover the ginger by about 1/2 inch (2 cm), and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then drain, discarding the liquid.

Return the blanched ginger slices to the saucepan, then add the milk, 1 cup (250 ml) of the cream, the lemon zest/sugar, and salt. Warm the mixture, cover, and remove from the heat. Let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Rewarm the mixture. Remove the ginger slices with a slotted spoon and discard. Pour the remaining 1 cup (250ml) heavy cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Place the bowl into an ice bath and stir the custard until cool.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

Monday, August 6, 2007

It's Tso Good

I've inherited my fair share of knick-knacks, trinkets, and baubles. Sometimes I know right away that they're junk and let the kids have them to play with. But some things I wonder, "Hmm, this could be worth something."

It's the Hmmm factor that gets me sucked into watching The Antiques Roadshow. I love the people standing in snaking lines waiting to see if their great-uncle Leopold's violin really is a Stradaverius (not), if the stool they bought at a garage sale for $10 is worth more than that (yes, by several thousand dollars), or if the painting they found stashed in the back of the attic is really a lost Van Gogh (not).

There are such interesting items that people bring out to have evaluated - an chest of antique dental tools, an ornately carved folding table, or a Civil War era cloth doll. Usually there is a story attached to the items, indicating their age and provenance. I love the part where the antique dealer tells what he's found out about the piece, including historical tidbits about the time, and then breaking the news to the owner about the worth of the item. Shocked, overjoyed, or crestfallen, each face is priceless.

If there were a culinary Antiques Roadshow, one dish that definitely would need to have it's bona fides inspected would be General Tso's chicken. It's a staple on the menu at almost every Chinese restaurant, but one wonders, "Who was General Tso? What was it with him and chicken? And if he was a great general, why did he have time to hang out in the kitchen inventing new dishes?" The answer, as I found here, is that there was a real General Tso, but he had nothing to do with the dish bearing his name. It's the invention of a New York chef in the early 1970's, and it was so popular that it's been endlessly copied.

I knew this dish couldn't be authentic because I have all the ingredients in my pantry and it's easy, although time-consuming, to make. But it does relieve the angst I have about making a dish from another culture. Am I doing it right? Is it authentic? Well, this dish is authentically American, so I can honor General Tso with pride!

(Note: before you charge into the kitchen to make this, note that it takes a LOT of vegetable oil and cornstarch. Be sure you have enough before beginning.)

General Tso’s Chicken

1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 tsp minced ginger
1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup cooking sherry
1 1/2 cup hot chicken broth

3 lbs. chicken thigh meat, deboned and cut into chunks
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 egg
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cup sliced green onions
16 Small Hot Dried Peppers

To make Sauce, mix cornstarch and water together. Add garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and wine. Then add broth and stir til sugar dissolves. Refrgerate till needed. This can be done ahead of time.

In separate bowl mix chicken, soy sauce and pepper. Stir in egg. Add conrstarch until chicken is coated evenly. Add oil to help separate chicken pieces. Divide chicken in small quantities and deep-fry at 350° F. until crispy and light brown. Do not overcook; watch temp, stir fry or meat will toughen. Drain on rack, then remove to paper towels.

Place a small amount of oil in wok and heat til just hot. Add onions and peppers and stir-fry briefly (peppers will give off acrid smoke... be careful). Stir sauce; add to wok. Add chicken and cook just til sauce thickens. Add water or water/cornstarch if needed.

Discard red peppers, or warn your diners not to eat them.

This amount will fill two large platters and serves 6-8. Serve with white or brown steamed rice.

Makes 8 Servings

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Top Ten

I know it's been done before, but here are my personal top ten signs that you're spending too much time on your food blog.

#10 - You spend outrageous sums on specialty foods and don't blink because it's "for the blog."

#9 - When you set a hot dog down for your 5-year-old's lunch, he says, "Aren't you going to take a picture first?"

#8 - You plan your menu based not on nutrition, but on what's photogenic.

#7 - You know more about people who live in Australia, Singapore, and England than your next-door neighbors.

#6 - You can't remember the last fiction book you read. All the books you check out from the library are cookbooks. Likewise, when you log onto Amazon, all the "suggestions" are cookbooks.

#5 - You check for comments on your blog more often than you check for emails.

#4 - You have your blog URL put on your business cards

#3 - It feels like a waste of time to make something you've already blogged about.

#2 - When telling a story you make a mental note to work that into a blog post.

And, the #1 sign that you spend too much time on your food blog - You can't fit into your pants because of blogger's bloat!

Because of the last one, I've revisited a very good cookbook that's been gathering dust for a while. I can only do a non-stop diet of ice cream, scones, and cake for a little while before I feel the need to lighten up a bit. Have Your Cake and Eat It Too by Susan Purdy is the perfect way to cut out calories, fat, and cholesterol and yet still feel like you're having dessert.

With a bounty of fresh blueberries and raspberries on my counter and a refrigerator full of egg whites from making multiple batches of ice cream, I set out to make this luscious, light dessert. A pudding, in my experience has always been a custard. This was my first experience with, what I'd guess is, a bread pudding. Instead of bread, though, I used my egg whites to make an angel food cake, then the berries made a thick, slushy syrup for the cake to soak up. It's a tangy, sweet dessert, not too heavy, perfect for summer. If you want to feel extra good about yourself, top it with a blop of vanilla yogurt. Or, you can put on a dollop of whipped cream (like I did) or pair it with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream. Shhh - I won't tell!

Very Berry Summer Pudding
adapted from Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

7 cups fresh berries or frozen whole unsweetened berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or any combination, divided
2 Tbsp water
1/2 to 2/3 cup granulated sugar, to taste (I used 1/2 cup)
2 to 4 Tbsp dark rum or Framboise, to taste (this is optional. I used 2 Tbsp Chambord)
1 angel food cake

1- Combine 6 cups of the berries, the water, and sugar in a large heavy saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Cook, mashing and stirring the berries with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, for about 3 or 4 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the berries release their juice. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the rum or Chambord, if using, and set aside to cool.

2 - Line a 1-1/2 quart (or slightly larger) bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap large enough to overhang the edges. Cut the cake into 15 thin slices (about the thickness of a piece of store-sliced bread. It's OK if you have cake leftover - set it aside for later use). Cut 11 slices of the cake in half on the diagonal. Arrange 9 or 10 trangular pieces of cake in a pinwheel pattern, slightly overlapping, to cover the bottom of the bowl completely. Cut 3 or 4 slices of cake into 1- to 2-inch-wide strips and stand them on end, side by side, to line the sides of the bowl. Add extra cake, cut to fit, as needed to line the bowl right up to the rim.

3- Stir the berry mixture, and spoon about half into the cake-lined bowl. Smooth the top, and arrange 6 or more cake triangles in a pinwheel pattern to cover the berries. Spoon on the remaining berries and arrange 6 or more cake triangles in another pinwheel covering the berries. Cut small pieces of cake to patch any holes. The pattern does not matter; this will be the bottom when the pudding is unmolded. Fold the flaps of the plastic wrap over the cake.

4- Cover the pudding with another piece of plastic wrap slightly larger than the diameter of the bowl, then top it with a plate or cardboard round that fits just inside the bowl (it should not rest on the rim). Set a 2 lb weight on top, and refrigerate the pudding for at least 12 hours.

5 - To unmold, remove the weight and uncover the top of the pudding. Fold back the flaps of the plastic wrap and top the pudding with a flat serving plate with a lip. Invert, and peel off the plastic wrap. Cut into wedges and garnish each serving with a few of the remaining fresh berries.